I wonder what this world would be like if we approached each other as if we were approaching Christ himself? As I ponder this question, I keep asking myself how different our political process would be if our politicians approached and debated with each other as if they were debating with Christ. Think about it. Would they be willing to attack each other with half-truths. Would they continue treating us, the voting population, as sheep easily fooled, approaching issues as if they were as simplistic and as one-sided as they as they would like us to believe?
At baptism we vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. In light of this, the question is not if the stranger or other who has walked into our midst is Jesus unbeknownst to us, but the statement, the stranger or other is Jesus now among us.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham sees strangers fer off in the distance and extends the hospitality of his household to the three men. At the end of the visit, Abraham becomes aware that the sojourners he has entertained are in actuality angels of the most high.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers how we are judged by God. “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”
Both this passage and the story from Genesis serve as constant reminders that we never truly know who the stranger is and are to approach everyone as if we are approaching the Almighty itself. And this means everyone, for Christ also tells his followers in Matthew, we are to love our enemies, whether it be the neighbor we are at odds with, the urban youth we fear or the Islamic extremist who we feel threatened by, it is they who we are challenged to seek and serve Christ in.
As I write this homily, I can’t help but think how much easier it would be to seek and serve the Christ that is in all if everyone had a Christ-light like the heart-light of Steven Spielberg’s extra-terrestrial E.T. Like E.T. whose heart-light lit up when in the presence of compassion and deep connection, our Christ-lights would illuminate every time someone chose to seek and serve the Christ in us.
But then again I realize the vow we make is to SEEK and serve Christ in ALL persons. Both verbs are in the active tense telling us we are called to actively search for the Christ in all persons in the same way Sr. Helen Prejean describes in her book Dead Man Walking, a memoir of her work with a particular Louisiana death row inmate. In her telling of the story, the cold hardened killer she finds at the beginning of her journey did have another side, that of a scared vulnerable and almost child like personae that one could see and touch the Christ within. It was this hidden person, buried deep within, that Sr. Prejean chose to serve and care for as she worked to get his sentence reduced from death by legal injection to of life in prison.
Luckily for most of us, we are not called ,like Sister Prejean, to seek the Christ in the most hardened of individuals, but at times our task may feel almost as difficult, especially when dealing with our most disagreeable of neighbors or the rude individual who cuts us off on the highway or in the parking lot at Wegmans. But don’t expect this to be the extent of the challenge God may place before us.
In 2009, this country became enamored with the movie The Blind Side. It is the semi-biographical telling of how NFL player Michael Ohers was literally adopted by the Toehy family. The story line is remarkable just in the fact it is about a well to do southern white family providing food and shelter for an impoverished African-American youth. Here is an excellent example of living out the words of Christ to feed and provide for the poor. But the story goes beyond just this. Leah Anne Touhey doesn’t just see a poor homeless child, she sees a fellow human being who has wasted potential. In the movie, Leigh Anne Touhey not only sees the Christ in Michael Oher, she also chooses to serve the Christ within him. First, by approaching him with respect, as demonstrated when she refuses to address him as Big Mike, but by his given name, and then, she passionately advocates for others to see and to accept his potential as well.
We all know how the story ends, a life that was once doomed to the ills and violence of urban poverty is transformed and culminates with an opportunity to play professional football. Not every story ends so glamorously and very few of us have the drive and the resources it took for Leah Anne Touhey to save one life from the evils of this world.
But imagine, again, imagine, what this world would be like if we all were approached and approached all in our midst as the Christ. The first and most obvious answer would be that stories of personal transformation as found in The Blind Side and Dead Man Walking would be the norm. . not the exception. And, with every life that is transformed, the potential for whole communities to be transformed . . . grows exponentially.
During Advent, we explored Christ’s vision of what the Reign of God on earth is comprised of. We learned that two of the core values included inclusion and justice. While none of us alone can transform this world into the reign of God. . . together . . as the Body of Christ, the Church, we can move the process forward. And, it all begins when we decide to seek and serve Christ in all persons by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? And to this we answer, “we will with God’s help.” Amen
My question for the week. Where have you found Christ in others? Fr Craig
March 18, 2012